More proactive information disclosure and higher transparency are the current needs of federal agencies responding to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. Complying with the FOIA is an essential way that the government agencies serve US democracy. But the reality is that complying these regulations is extremely expensive and time-consuming.
With the rise of the volume of FOIA requests, the gap between traditional, manual approaches, and the capacity of the agencies to respond to requests is becoming wider. An added stress point is that legislative and public expectations of getting responses on time are becoming more persistent.
Today, agencies are obligated to meet specific timelines for new FOIA requests and simultaneously overcome the backlogs. This is where automation steps in. Implementing FOIA request management solution can significantly increase agencies’ capacity and help them optimize the usage of their resources. Also, having FOIA software solution will help agencies reduce errors and minimize appeals, which is especially important for those that are paying appeal costs way out of their budgets.
When implementing FOIA request management solution, government agencies should go for a flexible approach that permits evolution rather than reinvention. Implementing FOIA software solution from a vendor that works particularly in the area of FOIA request management has certain advantages. As such, the vendor is likely to have more in-depth knowledge of both the external demands and everyday operational realities.
Since we live in a digitalized era, government agencies must find a solution for displaying, storing, and managing FOIA requests so that citizens can rapidly access public records. So, for agencies to increase their efficiency, save time, and satisfy citizens, the best approach is to implement FOIA software solution.
The Need for Automated FOIA Software Solution
Speed, security, and completeness of the records are essential for every government agency that handles FOIA requests, and anything that can simplify the search for relevant record improves the overall process. The more precise and smaller the record sets are, the simpler the whole FOIA process will be.
A key element for a successful software solution is detailed analytics and also pre-identifying content based on previous text analysis.
A software solution that pre-redacts data is also beneficial. Most of the data that government agencies are redacting is Personally Identifiable Information, and it can be found in the same location for many FOIA requests. An eDiscovery tool that helps in locating records and automatically redacts exempt material is also beneficial for every FOIA office.
Here are 7 key benefits organizations can gain from using a solid FOIA software solution as the backbone of FOIA requests management.
1. Easily determine if documents meet the needs of the FOIA request
Government agencies can use automated FOIA request solutions to more easily determine if all the documents meet the needs of the request and then review documents for necessary redactions. Furthermore, government agencies need to be able to manage FOIA requests on an annual basis. Utilizing FOIA software solution will not only help them in streamlining the whole process internally but also in reporting outside entities.
Armedia’s FOIA Module has capabilities for document production, processing, and recordkeeping which enable users to:
- Save redacted record collections for future requests, considerably reducing the time for searching and photocopying.
- Download, email, or batch print after redacting documents.
2. Reduce the clutter and get most relevant documents to citizens
One keyword search in a documents management system can cover all the documents and quickly and easily find the most relevant documents to citizens. Additionally, government agencies can take advantage of the search capabilities that enable searching by phrases, words, names, email addresses, phone numbers, addresses and much more. FOIA requests management becomes a breeze once you have all the documents in a digital form and there’s a unified interface for receiving FOIA requests and verifying which document can be released.
3. Review, track & manage case activities
When the data is structured in one place, managing it is easy. When organizations rely on a FOIA software solution, government agencies would not need to refer to files stored in different folders (sometimes even at files with geographically different locations). The time from receiving a request, to processing the request and reviewing the case before documents are released in the public domain can literally be just minutes of work by a FOIA clerk’s computer.
4. Cut down the time spent on handling paper-based FOIA requests
Automated FOIA request solutions help agencies to cut down the time spent on handling paper-based FOIA requests since everything is digitalized and easily searchable. Also, the process of managing files and communicating with staff and different departments become simpler, which in turn, accelerates the time needed to respond to citizens request.
5. Simplify the process of submitting and tracking FOIA requests
With automated FOIA solution, citizens can submit their FOIA requests online which will result in spending less time since they don’t need to go to the agency’s office. Also, citizens can always be up-to-date and easily track the status of their application.
Modern FOIA software solutions enable eFOIA request processing and tracking, so your agency will be citizen-friendly. Also, an automated solution will save your staff the trouble of constantly answering to phone calls and informing citizens about the status of their FOIA applications.
6. Handle large-scale volumes of data
A proper eFOIA Module should be able to handle large-scale volumes of data for complex cases. Government agencies that are responding to FOIA requests can utilize this capability to produce, import, scan, and de-duplicate all the documents needed to answer a request. Once all documents are appropriately redacted and reviewed, the FOIA solution should prepare the final version for delivery to the requester.
7. Expand the data pool
Solid FOIA Software solutions should be flexible enough to allow government agencies to constantly grow the database of documents they handle on daily basis. This means that there should be an open architecture that allows database growth through either manually adding document details, or an automated process of receiving, scanning, text-extraction and proper tagging of new documents.
Armedia’s FOIA Module as a Solution for Government Agencies
Armedia’s FOIA Module offers a complete solution and allows agencies to collect and search directly across many data sources like file shares, email boxes, and other electronic content repositories and also allows paper collections for identifying potentially relevant information.
With Armedia’s FOIA Software Solution, agencies can automatically classify collected documents per department, custodian, document type, withholding reasons, and many other categories.
This FOIA solution offers easy to use production functionality, including reporting functionality and review accelerators developed in the demanding eDiscovery world.
Armedia has great experience in designing, developing, and implementing case management systems and can deliver FOIA solutions that will help government agencies increase productivity and handle FOIA requests on time.
Government agencies are rapidly beginning to take advantage of automated FOIA Software Solutions and are showing exceedingly positive results.
Some agencies have concerns that adopting an FOIA Software Solution will mean throwing their currently established processes and starting from scratch. To avoid such a radical step, some of the government agencies are going to vendors asking for completely customized FOIA workflows. And some of them are implementing solutions built just for a specific purpose such as document redaction. Most solutions that only offer reduction do not offer document repository and a web-based solution, and they don’t offer eFOIA solutions.
This is where Armedia steps in with its FOIA request management solution. Armedia has partnered with ArkCase, Ephesoft, Alfresco, Amazon Web Services, and Snowbound and has managed to successfully deliver an automated FOIA/PA case management solution that is highly configurable, scalable, and compliant.
Armedia’s FOIA Module meets the needs of government agencies with a web-based, workflow-driven automated software solution. This software solution helps speed up the response time while managing the whole process of responding to FOIA requests. Armedia’s FOIA request solution can help government agencies to manage, track, and review activities and, at the same time, produce answers to citizens’ requests promptly. Armedia offers FOIA solution specifically designed to help agencies automate the process of handling FOIA requests to easily manage, analyze, review, and handle incoming requests.
Armedia offers the perfect solution for overcoming FOIA backlogs.
We would like to hear from you:
- What FOIA challenges is your department facing?
- Is this blog post helping you to realize how your department can leverage FOIA request management solution?